18 November 2008

Scientists Prove that Kevin Bacon Is Key to Understanding the Cosmos

I've long subscribed to the philosophy of the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, who is a lesser philosopher than Francis Bacon but a way better actor. This theory, originating with Bacon (Kevin, not Francis), is that any actor can be linked through his or her film roles to Kevin Bacon. Bacon's original quip was that he'd worked with with every actor in Hollywood, or with someone who had. The link isn't always that close, but the Oracle of Bacon has rigorously tested the theory and found that only 12% of 800,000 actors in the IMDB cannot be linked to Kevin Bacon.

So, as an utterly random example, I go to the Oracle and type in "Rosemary Clooney," whom I cannot imagine being linked to Bacon in any immediate way. But it turns out she worked with Mark Jeffery Miller in the Radioland Murders (1994), who worked with Kevin Bacon in Death Sentence (2007). Eerie.

My mind is always making these movie connections, unconsciously, and when they bubble to the surface it tends to unnerve me. It's almost like insight into the foundational principles of cosmic sympathy, with the ley lines all leading Hollywood. For example, let's return to Rosemary Clooney, whom most would place far from the center of the cosmos. (Hold on, this gets a little complicated.)

Robert F. Kennedy was shot on June 5, 1968, in Los Angeles in the Ambassador Hotel's Embassy Room ballroom. Present was Rosemary Clooney, a close friend of Bobby Kennedy. Clooney was the mother of actor Miguel Ferrar. Miguel Ferrar and actor Jacob Vargas starred together in Traffic (2000). Jacob Vargas also had a minor role in Bobby (2006), a movie about the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. This relates Clooney and the almost unknown Mexican actor Vargas to each other in two different ways. Uncanny.

Back to Kevin Bacon's theory. (To give due credit, the general idea comes from the small world theory of Stanley Milgram, which more or less concluded that all people in the US are separated by only six degrees of removal.) Scientists are now discovering that there is some kind of "hidden metric space" beneath complex systems. Says the author of a recent article on this theory, "A vast majority of very different complex networks have similar shapes.  They have similar shapes not just for fun, but perhaps because they all evolved toward structures and shapes that maximize efficiency according to their main common function, and that function is communication." In other words, most systems grow in such a way that they are in fact closer to other things in that system than they appear on the surface. Insight into this hidden space could revolutionize the internet, medicine, and many other areas of technology and science. See here.

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